Ellen Wisniewski reacts after flight instructor Steve Crum tells her she passed the test on how to land a plane in an emergency. The Pinch Hitters program teaches novices rudimentary skills.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
BY CASEY SUMNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
In the skies over northwest Ohio on Saturday, a small plane cruised at 1,500 feet, with a pilot who had never flown before.
"My heart is in my throat!" said Ellen Wisniewski, grasping the controls as the airplane lurched.
The Toledo woman, with no flight training and no pilot's license, then attempted to make an emergency landing in a grassy field.
But the "emergency" was one she knew was going to happen: This flight was the final step in her instruction as part of the Pinch Hitters program, which offers training to help unlicensed novices learn to land a plane in an emergency. The program was one of several featured by the Experimental Aircraft Association at Toledo Executive Airport.
Back in the air, Mrs. Wisniewski decreased her speed and tried to angle for a landing, watching as the plane came within a few hundred feet of the field.
But before the plane touched down, Steve Crum, her instructor in the adjacent seat, took control and guided the plane smoothly away from the ground.
"You started slowing down, which was good. You handled it well," Mr. Crum said.
"I want a drink," Mrs. Wisniewski said.
The Pinch Hitters program, offered by the Toledo chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, provides about six hours of ground training on rudimentary use of the radio, instruments, and flight controls.
In classes at Toledo Executive Airport, students learn how to contact air traffic control on the radio and keep the plane steady in flight, said Bill David, the program's instructor.
"It doesn't teach how to fly," he said, emphasizing the difficulty of mastering landings. "It teaches how to survive."
The program, which had eight students in its first offering this year, primarily targets people whose spouses, like Mrs. Wisniewski's husband, have private pilot licenses and who might need to land the plane if the spouse flying it should become incapacitated.
Saturday's plane ride was the final test. It was Mrs. Wisniewski's first time taking control of the airplane.
Mr. Crum guided the plane, a propeller-driven 1977 Piper Archer, through the takeoff procedure and brought it up in the air. Then he turned the controls over to Mrs. Wisniewski.
She used her training to keep the airplane steady, scouting for a place to land in a field just south of Toledo.
"Trees are bad, wires are bad," Mr. Crum said dryly.
After her first attempt at landing in the field, Mr. Crum allowed Mrs. Wisniewski to try landing on the runway at Toledo Executive Airport. She handled the plane with more confidence, although Mr. Crum controlled the final landing.
"It's good to have that sense of pure panic, and then recover from it," she said afterward.
"It's one of the most difficult things, to try and land like that," Mr. Crum said. "The way she was handling it, at the speed we were going, we could have survived."
The Pinch Hitters was not the only aviation-themed event held by the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The organization's "Plane Fun" event runs through today at the airport south of Walbridge. It features aviation exhibits and model rocket building. Admission is $5. A "Young Eagles" program will provide free 20-minute plane rides to children ages 8-17.
"It was awesome," said Harison Bhanoo, 13, of Cleveland, who was visiting with his grandparents. "I got to see my grandparents' house from the plane," he said.
Toledo Executive Airport, formerly known as Metcalf Field, is adjacent to Lake High School in Lake Township.